Mission & Purpose
SciPol is brought to you by the Duke Initiative for Science & Society (S&S), which seeks to maximize social benefit from scientific progress by making science more accessible, just, and better integrated into society.
SciPol is an unbiased public service website providing policy updates, explanation of the relevant science at issue, and opportunities for engagement in the policy-making process. Existing topical coverage includes genetics/genomics, nanotechnology, neuroscience, robotics/artificial intelligence, and energy.
The site also presents broad job opportunities within Science Policy & Bioethics.
SciPol seeks to provide timely and quality information to a broad audience of academics, companies, journalists, nonprofits, and policy practitioners. Policy development updates are initially posted when made available by policy actors; novel briefs are published after being authored, reviewed, and edited for quality.
Energy both unites and underlies all human activity. The discovery, extraction, distribution, conversion, and use of various forms of energy is the economic foundation of our global economy. Ultimately, the choices we make about energy are inextricably linked to our environment, human health and well-being, and the interaction of nations and populations around the globe.
In the energy policy vertical at SciPol, we turn the spotlight specifically to new developments in industry, policy, and science that have a direct and intentional impact on the United States energy sector.
Our current areas of focus within Energy are categorized as follows:
- Source: Fossil Fuels (Coal, Oil, & Gas), Wind, Solar, Nuclear, Water (Hydroelectric, Hydrokinetic, Hydrothermal), Thermal (Geothermal, Hydrothermal), Biomass (Plant-Based Biofuels, Animal-Based Biofuels), Emerging Fuels (Photobiological)
- Production, Conversion, Distribution: Discovery, Extraction, Conversion, Storage
- Use: Residential, Commercial, Industrial, Transportation
Emerging Trends in Energy Policy
To provide our readers with a quick understanding of current topics in the energy policy sector, we also track emerging trends in energy policy, including:
- Hydropower Expansion & Authorizations
- Preparing a Future Energy Workforce
- Increasing Transparency & Streamlining Governance of Federal Power Regulation
- Great Lakes Pipeline Safety
Areas of Exclusion: Energy Policy Coverage
Energy is a broad topic; to better serve our mandate and connect our readers with the best resources available, we generally exclude the following topics from coverage:
- Vehicles & Vehicle Emissions Standards
- The Clean Air Act
- Emissions/Air Pollution
- Energy Efficiency
- Land Conveyances
We also generally exclude the following types of developments:
- Congressional Resolutions
- Congressional Amendments
- Tax Law and Amendments to the Internal Revenue Code of 1986
- Appropriations or Authorizations Bills
- Industry Annual Reports
Genetics is the study of genes, genetic variation and heredity. Genomics is the analyses of an organism’s entire genetic makeup, which is called a genome. Genomics includes efforts to understand how genomes are organized and function, how they differ in subtle ways among individuals to influence health and disease risk, and how they interact with environmental or non-genetic factors, such as a person's lifestyle.
Examples of genetic/genomics policy topics covered by SciPol include:
- Agricultural genetics
- Cancer genetics
- Direct-to-consumer genetic testing
- DNA collection, typically related to more specific topics such as genetic privacy, forensics, & precision medicine
- DNA diagnostics & gene sequencing
- Fetal tissue research/testing
- GMO foods & labeling
- Gene editing and gene therapy
- Genes and ancestry
- Genetics and intellectual property
- Genetic toxicology and mutation causation
- Genetic diseases: research, diagnosis, and treatment
- Governance of genetic data and genetic privacy; Genetic Information Non-discrimination Act (GINA)
- Human identification & forensic DNA
- Newborn screening, typically related to DNA collection
- Precision medicine
- Reproductive procedures/technologies, such as preimplantation genetic diagnosis or mitochondrial replacement therapy
- Stem cell research/testing & stem cell-based therapeutics
Neuroscience is the study of how the nervous system develops, its structure, and what it does. Much of neuroscience focuses on how the brain works, including how it creates and controls behavior and cognitive functions. Not only is neuroscience concerned with the normal functioning of the nervous system, but also what happens to the nervous system when people have neurological, psychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders.
Examples of neuroscience policy topics covered by SciPol include:
- Brain health & cognitive development
- Brain research, and related technologies and techniques such as brain imaging or genetic or stem cell therapies
- Environmental neurotoxins
- Mental health, such as depression, anxiety, & schizophrenia
- Neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s & Parkinson’s
- Neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism
- Neurological diseases, such as epilepsy
- Traumatic Brain Injury, concussions, and head safety
Nanotechnology is defined as science, engineering, and technology conducted at the nanoscale, which is at the scale of about 1 to 100 nanometers, thousands of times smaller than the human eye can see. Nanoscience crosscuts all fields of the physical sciences including chemistry, biology, physics, materials science, and engineering. Nanotechnology enables understanding, measurement, manipulation, and manufacture at the atomic, molecular, and supramolecular (more complex) levels, by controlling new molecular organization, properties, and functions, in order to create materials, devices, and systems.
Examples of nanotechnology policy topics covered by SciPol include:
- Legal definitions, categorizations, and policy developments related to naturally occurring, incidentally produced, and engineered nanomaterials
- Issues pertaining to nanoinformatics, i.e., big data about nanomaterials
- Policy related developments on specific nanomaterial applications, including:
- Nanomedicines, such as therapies that specifically target cancer cells
- Nanosensors incorporated into clothing or directly applied to skin
- 3D printing using nanoparticles or cells to produce small circuits as well as organs for transplantation
- Semiconductors (microchips produced using nanotechnology that control all modern electronics) and electronic circuit advancements
- Energy sustainability technologies, such as nano-enabled solar cells and nanocatalysts for water splitting to produce hydrogen for fuel
- Nano-enabled batteries produced for enhanced life and efficiency
- Environmental remediation and protection strategies, such as nano-absorbants that remove greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere
- Policy related developments focused on particular novel properties at the nanoscale
- Superconductivity at room temperature, to power a new generation of MRIs and Maglev trains
- Super-strong and highly flexible material properties conferred by nanoscale materials
Robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Robotics is an interdisciplinary field combining computer science, mechanical engineering and electrical engineering to design, construct, and operate robots. A robot, in this context, is a programmable machine capable of carrying out complex actions automatically. Artificial intelligence refers to the development of machines capable of performing tasks that traditionally require human intelligence.
Examples of robotics/AI policy topics covered by SciPol include:
- Autonomous/driverless transportation, including road, rail, maritime and air.
- Civilian drones regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
- Robot-assisted surgery
- Medical service robots, including concierge and therapy robots
- Autonomous weapons
- Liability and safety implications for robots
- Precision agriculture
- Algorithm-driven financial planning services
- Privacy issues for robot technology
Nita A. Farahany, PhD, JD
Nita Farahany is Director of S&S and a Professor of Law and Philosophy. She is a leading scholar on the ethical, legal, and social implications of biosciences and emerging technologies, particularly those related to neuroscience and behavioral genetics.
Alexandra Sutton Lawrence, PhD
Alexa Sutton Lawrence is Director of SciPol. She is a graduate of the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke, where she worked with Professor Stuart Pimm to study best practices in biodiversity conservation. Her dissertation, Conservation in the Human Landscape, comprises case studies of leadership, management, and finance in global environmental initiatives. She has held previous policy positions at The Wildlife Society and the Consortium for Ocean Leadership, and her research has been supported by The Explorers’ Club; National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative; and Sigma Xi. She is also the founder of Kedge Conservation, a social innovation startup that works to promote financial literacy, access, and equity in East & Southern Africa. (email@example.com)
Christian Capobianco writes and edits content related to nanotechnology. He is pursuing a Master of Arts in Bioethics and Science Policy at Duke University, in which he focuses on technological innovations and the risks inherent to them. Prior to SciPol, he received Bachelor of Science degrees in Nanoscience and Psychology from Virginia Tech. At Virginia Tech, he did research at polymer-centric lab and help to design a cell biology course for engineers. Christian is also interested in intellectual property law and externed at the United States Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, Virginia. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Rosa Castro, LLM, PhD
Rosa Castro oversees publications of SciPol content related to judicial decisions. She is a Postdoctoral Associate at Duke Science & Society and Managing Editor of the Journal of Law and the Biosciences. She has an LL.M. (Hamburg University, University of Bologna), a Ph.D. in Law and Economics (Erasmus University Rotterdam, University of Bologna) and an MA in Bioethics and Science Policy (Duke University). Her research interests lie at the intersection of health, innovation, and intellectual property law. (email@example.com)
Buz Waitzkin, JD, LLM
Michael “Buz” Waitzkin is Deputy Director of S&S, and a Senior Lecturing Fellow. He has extensive experience as a practicing lawyer within the private biomedical and government sectors.
Andrew Pericak, MEM
Andrew Pericak contributes to and edits content for SciPol. He received the Master of Environmental Management degree from Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment in 2016, at which he specialized in Environmental Economics and Policy. Before that, he received the Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies and Geography from the University of Richmond. Andrew also has extensive experience with geographic information systems (GIS) and has produced open spatial data currently used in academic research and public advocacy. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Michael Clamann, PhD
Michael Clamann oversees the development and publication of SciPol content related to robotics and artificial intelligence (AI). He is also a Senior Research Scientist in the Humans and Autonomy Lab (HAL) within Duke Robotics, where he works to better understand the complex interactions between robots and people and how they influence system effectiveness and safety. He received a PhD and MIE in Industrial and Systems Engineering and a MS in Experimental Psychology from North Carolina State University. He has worked in industry as a Human Factors Engineer since 2002, supporting government and private clients in domains including aerospace, defense and telecommunications. He is also a Certified Human Factors Professional (CHFP). (email@example.com)
Jack Zhou, PhD
Jack Zhou oversees the development and publication of SciPol content related to energy, and is jointly supported by Duke Science & Society and the Duke Energy Initiative. He is a political scientist whose research focuses on American environmental politics, energy politics, political communication, political polarization, and public opinion. Additionally, Jack has taught a variety of classes related to the politics of climate change, energy, and the environment. He received his PhD from Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment in 2016 and his BS from UC Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources in 2010. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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